Jesus, St Paul’s and the Protestors

02/11/11 | Posted by MattPage

Unless you've been orbiting around Neptune for the last two weeks, you will probably have heard that a group of protesters have set up camp around St. Paul's Cathedral and refused to leave. The last 17 days have seen, the Cathedral go back and forth as to whether or not they should close; three members of staff resign; more back and forth-ing on the question of legal action; public outcry both from those in favour and those opposed to the occupation; with still no sign as to when the protest will end.

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  Image derived from Anroir using a Creative Commons Licence

Initially the protesters settled outside St. Paul’s because their initial plans to camp in Paternoster Square were thwarted, so, in some ways, the church has suffered for being such an easier target. But the sympathy that people had initially for St. Paul’s began to evaporate as it became increasingly clear that the Cathedral was going to take legal action to evict the campers.

Since then, pages and pages have been written about the gaping cavern between the teachings and practice of Jesus on the one hand and the actions of his followers on the other. This was the man who said it was easier for the rich to pass through the eye of a needle than to pass into heaven, and yet here his representatives were, siding with the rich City of London Corporation to threaten those pressing for a fairer world.

Indeed, one of Jesus’ key messages was that such a fairer world would come. All too often parts of his teaching are watered down into comfy platitudes about being “nice to the poor”, but in fact Jesus often talked in far more disturbing terms, he was not merely preaching equality, but predicting a day when rich and poor would swap places.

Take, for instance, the famous phrase “the first shall be last and the last shall be first”. Matthew and Luke move it around a bit, but in Mark’s was original version it came straight after the bit about the eye of the needle. Similarly Luke 6 finds a radical variation on Matthew’s Beatitudes. Not only will the poor be blessed, but there is trouble ahead for the rich. And later on in Luke 16 there’s a parable which again sees rich and poor swap places.

In comparison, the protester’s demands seem fairly mild. Stopping wars and arms dealing, and “structural change towards authentic global equality” are about as far as they go.

It’s good news, then, that the Cathedral authorities have finally decided to drop their legal action and, in so doing, appear to have caused the City of London Corporation to hesitate over their own course of action. Furthermore, it appears like Church representatives will now sit down with the protesters and listen to the issues they raise. The cross fertilisation could challenge and mobilise the church whilst also tightening up their demands into something more achievable and realistic.

The dithering over the last 17 days has undeniably made the church look bad. Yet some real good has come from it, not least the fact that it has kept the issue on the news agenda for far longer than anyone could have expected. Perhaps that’s not a bad way for things to be.

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I agree entirely with what you say, and I think St Paul’s would be well advised to take some of their services outside to the protestors, and perhaps provide some soup and sandwiches.

#1. By Tom Day on November 05, 2011

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